How does investing in a trail impact students’ travel behavior compared to walking and cycling through neighbourhood networks?

Take note: Safe Routes to School coordinators, Public health professionals, Trail planners, Bike and pedestrian transportation planners, Park planners, School administrators, Parents

We have a problem: Since 2005, the Safe Routes to School program in the United States has invested over one billion dollars in encouraging safer walking and cycling opportunities. Much of that investment has gone toward infrastructure improvements:  adding sidewalks, traffic calming lights, and navigational signage. Some communities are reviewing trails for connecting students to schools.

Research on trails is falling behind forward-thinking communities who are already starting to route paths near schools. In the predominately Latino community of Whittier in East Los Angeles, California; the City successfully established a rail-trail near schools.  By adapting the Safe Routes to School survey to include trail questions, we are responding to the call of communities and fellow researchers to think more inclusively about how trails can expand children’s travel options. 

What this study adds: There is a lack of research findings featuring youth and ethnic minorities using trails for travel. 

  • Just as drivers are likely to take local streets to reach nearby destinations yet use freeways to travel great distances rapidly; we found that students are using the (’grey’) infrastructure to travel shorter distances and the trail for longer distances.
  • Trails may offer an opportunity for youth to travel actively further distances with relative safety and convenience.

Implications for city policy and practice: What is needed now:

  • In terms of policy; the indication is that trails and greenways should be explored as an infrastructure investment that could reduce the distance barrier for youth who presently live too far away from school.
  • In terms of planning, investing in, and routing trails near schools; this may just help young students go that extra mile. 

Future studies should evaluate if this relationship in southern California, USA holds in other cities and countries.

Full article: Greenways as safe routes to school in a Latino community in East Los Angeles

Associated links and information:
Safe routes to school
Rails to trails
American Planning Association: Planning and Community Health Center
Centres for Disease Control and Prevention Physical activity and community strategies
Federal Highway Administration: Bicycle and Pedestrian Program

Authors: Crystal Taylor (@CrystalJTaylor1) and Christopher Coutts
City Know-how editor: Marcus Grant